Children’s Minister Kevin Brennan of the UK revealed that there are up to 33 girls missing from the local school system and that they may have been victims of forced marriage. The English cases are only a piece of a greater worldwide problem.
Mr. Brennan testified before the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee on the issue of forced marriages. A Bradford City Council reported that it had lost track of 23 girls last year. However there are some other underlying facts that need to be mentioned about the missing girls. There are 14 other areas that also are reporting missing girls and these areas correlate with areas where “honor-violence” has occurred. The particular areas in question have large Asian communities. Current estimates are that one out of every 10 Asian marriages in Scotland is a forced marriage.
The problem of forced marriage has been on the increase in Britain, resulting in the 2005 formation of The Forced Marriage Unit. The unit typically receives 5,000 calls a year and deals with 300 forced marriage cases. In 2007, 30% of the forced marriage cases involved minors. A Forced Marriage is not the same as an arranged marriage in which both spouses can choose whether or not to accept the arrangement. In a Forced Marriage, one or both spouses DO NOT CONSENT to the marriage and some element of duress, whether it is emotional of physical, is involved. When someone, typically the girl, refuses to participate in a forced marriage, that act can place the girl at risk of murder, also known as ‘Honor Killing’. There is no cultural or religious justification for Forced Marriage. The majority of cases in the UK involve South Asian families, and a number of cases have arisen in the East Asian, Middle Eastern, European and African communities.
Of course the basic tenet of a Forced Marriage, the lack of consent of both parties, goes against Article 16 of the 1948 United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Article says the following:
(1) Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.
(2) Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.
In August of 2008 the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act will become a law thereby making forced marriage an official civil offense. This means that women or a third party would be able to apply for an injunction in the civil courts to stop the marriage. One of the problems is that this means that the children have to go against a parent’s wishes. In response, the conservative political party of the UK has pushed for further expansion of the definition of a third party to include school teachers and administrators that could help these children.
While these numbers may seem shocking, this is merely the tip of the iceberg. Child brides that were forced to marry number around 51 million worldwide. It is projected that another 100 million girls will be forced to marry in the next ten years. That number breaks down to 25,000 child brides marrying every day. The youngest brides come from India where 15% of all brides are not even 10 years old when they are forced to marry. Girls who are under the age of 15 are 5 times more likely to die in childbirth than somebody who is only five years older.
Stephanie Sinclair, winner of the 2007 UNICEF Photo of the Year award, captured the problem in pictures with her images of Afghani groom, Mohammed, age 40, and his child bride Ghulam, age 11. Another photo by Ms. Sinclair shows 55 year old Said Mohammed and 8 year old Roshan Kasem 8 on their engagement day in Afghanistan. According to a women’s ministry nearly 60 percent of Afghan girls get married before the legal age of 16.
The practice of taking child brides goes back thousands of years to the 52 year old Islamic prophet Mohammed who entered into a contract marriage with six year old Aisha but waited until she was 9 years old to consummate the marriage. The age of 9 seems to have set a precedent for the Islamic Republic of Iran which ruled that girls as young as 9 can be married with parental permission.
This issue is not just a foreign problem, but a human rights abuse that we should take measures to end. The U.S. Congress has introduced legislation to curb child marriage, but the legislation is not a current top priority. Please visit the International Center for Research on Women [http://www.icrw.org/html/specialevents/week_of_action.htm] where they have put this issue on the forefront and are heading up the fight in the United States.
Norman Lihou is the Director of Intelligence at the Non Governmental Intelligence Agency (NGIA) ([http://www.thengia.org]) and provides analysis about information he finds at the website Thinking Points ([http://thinkingpoints.thengia.org]). NGIA is committed to provide a pure analysis of current and ongoing situations in the world, while applying historical lessons learned for a comprehensive view of how that may impact our lives. This analysis is conducted without any political, administration, organization and/or agency bias, agenda, goals or gains. NGIA goes beyond the headlines and the sound bites to better educate and inform the public, business and government sectors on what they can do to recognize the threat and protect themselves.